The Excellent Wife – Proverbs 31:10-31

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

May 13, 2012

The Excellent Wife

Proverbs 31:10-31

Introduction

Happy Mothers Day to you. We are glad to join in this cultural celebration that recognizes the importance of motherhood. Though feminists belittle and disdain you for focusing your attention and placing your priority on your children and homes, we honor you. We recognize that your influence on your family is the foundation for society, “For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.”

Thank you ladies for your selfless sacrifice for the welfare of your family and for our society.

Bearing a child does not make a woman a mom any more than fathering a child makes a man a dad. There are other particular elements that must be present to gain those precious titles from children whether they be our own or those we have adopted. There are also certain characteristics that mark the good mom as opposed to the bad mom, the godly mom as opposed to the ungodly mom. This morning I would like to talk about the characteristics of a godly mom, but these are also the character traits that should mark any godly woman. So whether you are a mom or not, these are qualities you want to be developing in your life. That is an important point to emphasize.

Let me also emphasize that you need not be discouraged even if your life is not yet characterized by one or more of the particular qualities that I will be talking about this morning. Our God is longsuffering and patient and desires to work in your life to develop these qualities. Be glad for the ignorance to be removed so that you can work on any areas of deficiency. Your goal should be to become and be known as a godly woman, and recognizing where you lack is the first step toward overcoming and growing in those areas.

Men, this sermon is also for you. If you are married, then you need to be giving active consideration in how you can help your wife develop these characteristics. She needs your encouragement and support, not your condemnation. The same is true for your daughters. If you are not married, then you also should be encouraging and helping your sisters and your sisters-in-Christ develop these characteristics. They are also the characteristics you should be looking for when giving any consideration of a potential wife.

There are many Bible passages that describe various aspects of a godly woman. All of them reflect the purpose of the woman’s creation as described in Genesis 1 & 2 which we talked about last week. Eve was created to be a helper suitable to Adam. Her purpose was to be someone who corresponded to Adam, complemented him and assisted him in carrying out God’s commands. (See: Proverbs on the Family, Part 1 – The Foundation) Ephesians 5:22-33 speaks of her submission and respect for her husband. In the context of the passage such submission is possible because she is walking wisely with the Lord so that in placing the Lord’s will as above her own she is also willing to give greater preference to her husband’s will over her own. In Titus 2:3-5 Paul talks about the older women being “reverent in their behavior and not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine.” They are to be “teaching what is good” to the younger women. They in turn are to learn to “love their husbands and children” while “being sensible, pure and workers at home and subject to their own husbands that the Word of God may not be dishonored.” 1 Peter 3:1-6 adds to this speaking of a godly woman’s “chaste and respectful behavior” even if her husband is disobedient to the word. Such women are also to be more concerned about adorning themselves with “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit” rather than the perishable qualities of external beauty. Sarah and her relationship with Abraham is given as an example in that passage. There are of course many other women that are mentioned as good examples of certain characteristics.

Paul mentions Lois & Eunice in 2 Timothy 1:5 because of the sincere faith in them that they instilled into Timothy. Priscilla, also called Prisca, is mentioned along with her husband, Aquila, in several places in scripture because of their willingness to risk their own lives for Christ (Romans 16:3) as well as their humility in taking aside Apollos and teaching him more thoroughly so that he could be a better teacher rather than seeking the prominent position for themselves (Acts 18:26). There is Mary who desired to be and lived her life as “the bondservant of the Lord” regardless of the personal danger (Luke 1:38). She, along with several other women, are the ones that stayed with Jesus while He was being crucified even though all the disciples except John had fled (John 19:25). There is Abigail who proved herself to be wise though her husband, Nabal, was wicked (1 Samuel 25). There is Deborah who proved herself not only to be wise, but also brave even when those around her showed fear (Judges 4). There is Ruth who had the faith to abandon her own people in order to go to the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and follow the true God. She proved herself to be humble, a hard worker and a godly woman. There are many other women mentioned in the Bible that we could learn certain lessons from, however, the most extensive passage in the Bible that lists out character traits of a godly woman is Proverbs 31:10-31. Please turn there in your Bible.

As we begin our study please note two things about this passage. First, we note the context which Proverbs 31:1 gives as, “The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him”. The human origin of this passage is not the thoughts of a male chauvinist, but rather a godly mother teaching her son the qualities of an excellent wife. King Lemuel’s mother was used of God not only to have a great influence on him, but also on the rest of the world because what she taught him was written into the Scriptures.

Second, we must note that Proverbs 31:10 -31 is a poem. It consists of 22 stanzas (each verse) written in an alphabetical acrostic. Each stanza begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That is why some similar ideas are repeated within the poem.

Let us read through the poem and then come back to look the particular characteristic noted in each stanza. Provers 31:10-31 10 “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. 13 She looks for wool and flax, And works with her hands in delight. 14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar. 15 She rises also while it is still night, And gives food to her household, And portions to her maidens. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, And makes her arms strong. 18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor; And she stretches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of the s
now for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells [them,] And supplies belts to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband [also,] and he praises her, [saying:] 29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, [But] a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.”

VALUABLE (Vs. 10)

“An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” The expression is a wish. It gives voice to the desire that all men could find such a valuable treasure of such a woman. The term excellent here (chayil / khah’yil) is also translated as virtuous. The root meaning of this word is strength and in this context it reflects strength of character and ability which are then described in the rest of the poem. This is a wise woman of moral goodness and propriety combined with fine manners and culture along with physical strength. Her virtue is an outgrowth of her godliness and wisdom.

Such a woman is hard to find for she is of high quality and there are few that achieve such character distinctions and ability. This is the reason her value is compared jewels. Jewels are not valuable just because of their beauty, but because of their rarity. Quartz is a very lovely crystal, but because it is so common it is not valuable. Diamonds, on the other hand, are very rare and therefore very valuable. Marble is very pretty, but because it is common it is not considered valuable. Other rocks and minerals which are not any more beautiful than marble are valuable because of their rarity. So it is with the virtuous woman. She is marked by such wonderful character qualities that she is rare and therefore extremely valuable.

The reference to her worth being more than jewels or “rubies” may actually even be a reference to the type of dowry that would have to be paid to acquire such a woman for a wife. In ancient Israel a suitor could not just ask a girl to marry him. He had to pay a dowry price to her father. Abraham did this in getting Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. Jacob had to earn the dowry to pay for both Leah and Rachel. A woman with such excellence would bring a large dowry.

TRUSTWORTHY (Vs. 11)

“The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.” This is the first direct statement how she fulfills her purpose given in Genesis 2:18 as a “helper suitable for him.” The word “gain” comes from a word which means, “spoil of war,” and signifies the profit which she brings in. He can trust her wholly for she is seeking what is best for the family and not just herself. He has no fear of her pilfering from the family or squandering finances on herself. Instead, she actually brings profit into the family. To put it in modern terms, she can be trusted with the credit cards. She will not bring the family into debt but will instead increase its wealth. We will see how she does this in later verses.

Too many husbands fear that their wives will bring them down into debt through careless and frivolous spending. (Although actual statistics show that it is the husband that usually brings on family debt. He buys big items and takes the family into debt in leaps, while she will buy little items and take the family into debt slowly). Trust is important. It is an aspect of love (1 Corinthians 13).

Because she is trustworthy, her husband is able to pursue things outside the home for the benefit of his family and the community. This would include being a leader in society. We will see this later in verse 23. He would not have time to be involved in such things if he had to constantly be watching over a wife he could not trust. The virtuous woman is trustworthy and so is a blessing and a profit to the entire family.

CONTINUALLY GOOD (Vs. 12)

“She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.” This is the source of her husband’s trust in her. While finances are important in marriage, marriage is not about finances. The gain she brings into the family mentioned in verse 11 arises out of this characteristic of doing her husband good. The contrast, “and not evil,” strengthens the description showing that there are no slip ups. It is not some mixture of good and evil, but only good without evil all the days of her life. This can only arise out a deeply committed moral character in which true love reigns, for it demands self sacrifice for the best interest of the other. She is not controlled by the whims of her emotions or changes in circumstances. She is not striving to find self fulfillment in anything other than being God’s blessing in doing her husband good. No wonder the heart of this man can trust her.

INDUSTRIOUS (Vs. 13)

“She looks for wool and flax, and works with her hands in delight.” Part of the gain that she brings into the household is due to her industrious nature. We are not told specifically why she looks for the wool and flax. Perhaps to make clothing for her family? Perhaps to make something to sell? Perhaps both as indicated later in this passage, but the emphasis here is on her industrious spirit. She does not wait around until something has to be done or until someone tells her to do it. She goes out looking for and carefully selecting (darash / daw-rash’) the materials that she will need for whatever project she is working on. And please note her spirit while doing her work. She does not have the complaining, grumpy attitude that seems to affect so much of our society. Instead, she finds joy in doing work. It is “work her hands delight in,” and she is “active with her hands’ pleasure!”

Work is a good thing. The story of Ruth is a good example of such a woman. She is one that Ecclesiastes 5:18 would describe as enjoying herself in all her labor in which she toils under the sun during the few years of life God has granted to her. This is her reward.

PRUDENT (Vs. 14)

“She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.” In the care and advancement of her family this woman will go out beyond the nearest circle to be more prudent in her business. In other words, she does not shop at stores just because they are convenient, but she sacrifices her own comfort to get what is best for her family. That is not just in value, but in finding the items and quality that she wants. And remember, she would have to walk or ride a donkey to get to those markets. In a society that is increasingly focused on convenience and depending on frozen dinners that can be quickly fixed in the microwave, such a woman would stand out. This is yet another quality that gives reason for her to be valued so highly. She extends herself to find the better goods and the best value.

DILIGENT (Vs 15)

“She rises also while it is still night, And gives food to her household, And portions to her maidens.” The care of her family is more important to her than her own comfort. It is easy to stay in bed and let those that have to be somewhere else early get their own breakfast, but this woman desires to be part of meeting the needs of her family. This issue here is not that she is a “morning” person that gets up so early, but that she is neither selfish nor lazy. Her life is caught up with her concern for her family instead of her own comforts and convenience. She will do what is needed to make sure her family is well taken care of. We will see this quality come out again in some of her oth
er characteristics. If the phrase “portions to her maidens” refers to the daily work of her servants as some commentaries suggest, then she is also a diligent household manager.

ENTREPRENEURIAL (Vs 16)

“She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.” She understands business and knows how to increase her profits through diversification. Verse 13 indicates that she may have some sort of business dealing with wool and flax, and in verse 24, we will find that she is making things for sale. Here we find her involved in real estate and farming ventures. She is very intelligent and wise for she adds to the wealth of her household not only through her own manual labor and manufacturing, but by wise investment in other interests. Notice that she is funding this venture “from her earnings.” She does not loosely spend whatever funds she has available, instead, she saves and makes business investments.

Paul’s comment in Titus 2:5 that young women are to be “workers at home” does not exclude this, for it only sets the priority. Home comes first and outside work and investment come later. The Proverbs 31 woman demonstrates those priorities. It should also be noted that what any particular woman does will depend on her particular abilities and interests and that will vary greatly. The principle here is simply that she is entrepreneurial.

STRONG (Vs 17)

“She girds herself with strength, And make her arms strong.” She is not afraid of physical labor because she keeps herself physically fit. Since ancient Israel did not have “Curves,” “All-Sport” or any other type of gym, she is keeping physically fit through her various daily activities of running the home and her businesses. She is not a lazy couch potato that leaves all the hard work for others to do.

ATTENTIVE (Vs 18)

“She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.” She perceives, she senses, literally, she “tastes” that her profit from her industry and enterprise have been good . She is attentive to the outcome of her labor and investments. “Her lamp does not go out at night,” does not mean that she labors all night too. If that were true, she would not be human, for our bodies must have sleep and rest. This refers to being busy during the evening and being attentive to the needs of her family in anticipating what could happen and planning accordingly. She keeps a supply of oil on hand and checks the lamps to make sure there is enough to last the night.

HARD WORKER (Vs 19)

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.” This is the reason verse 13 mentions her looking for wool and flax. Here we find her hard at work with the activity of spinning the wool or flax by hand. This is even before the spinning wheel so it was a lot more work then. She is preparing material for either sale or for making clothes for her family, or both.

COMPASSIONATE (Vs 20)

“She extends her hand to the poor; and she stretches out her hands to the needy.” The same hands that spun the wool and flax and met the needs of her family also extended out in compassion to assist the poor. The idea here goes beyond just providing the poor with material necessities such as food and clothing. It includes the idea of reaching out with a tender touch to comfort, counsel and encourage.

She is not only a noble wife, she is also a godly woman diligent to fulfill God’s commands to help the poor. Deuteronomy 15:11 commanded them, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.” This desire to obey and please God is the foundation upon which all her character traits are built.

CONFIDENT (Vs 21)

All her diligence in labor and watchfulness over her family gives her confidence for what the future may bring. “She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.” She has anticipated the future and worked hard so that her family has warm clothing for the cold months including the extreme occasions when it might snow there. She has gone beyond even this to cloth them well in scarlet. The process of dying the clothes the color of scarlet made them more pleasing to the eye from drab off-white color of normal clothing. The process also made them more expensive, yet she has borne the costs and has prepared her family clothes that would both protect them and look nice.

ELEGANT (Vs 22)

She also clothed herself well, in fact, we could say she is elegant. “She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.” She used the colors available to her to make fine clothing of contrasting colors. She uses white linen and a purple colored material. These would be materials imported from Egypt and from Tyre. Both would have been expensive. Purple was the color for royalty because of its expense. She wears fine clothing as a result of her industry. That is important to remember because it is not the clothes that make her a virtuous woman. It is her virtues that have enabled her to gain such fine clothing for her apparel.

ADMIRABLE (Vs 23)

Her clothing was also appropriate to her position for “Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.” Because of her excellence at home, her husband was freed up to be involved in the public affairs of the land. He could not have been in such a position without her. In fulfilling her God given role she enabled her husband to fulfill his God given responsibilities. All such women are to be admired, and so it was appropriate that “Pastor Appreciation Sunday” included my wife, Diane, for I could not be in this position or accomplish what I do without her.

CAPITALIST (Vs 24)

The entrepreneurial theme is repeated in verse 24. “She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.” She is an entrepreneurial capitalist. Contrary to politically correct speech, a capitalist is a good thing. Her industry and spirit lead her to have a business of making linen garments. These were most likely the articles of clothing worn as an undergarment or by itself in the summer as light clothing. She also had a belt manufacturing business and she sold both of these items. The belts were specifically sold to international traders, probably the Phonecians. They would also be the ones from whom she got her own clothes and special things for the family mentioned earlier.

DIGNIFIED (Vs 25)

All of these are wonderful characteristics, but the most important ones are found in the next two verses and in verse 30. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.” She may wear elegant clothes, but her real beauty is her personal dignity. If she did not have dignity, then she would be as the woman in Proverbs 11:22 – a well adorned pig. “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” Based on her strength and dignity she smiles at the future for she has nothing to fear. Arnot said it well, “If honor be your clothing, your suit will last a lifetime; but if clothing be your honor, it will soon be worn threadbare.”

WISE (Vs 26)

It does not surprise us that she is also wise. “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” A fitting ornament is her wisdom and especially in its expression of kindness in her teaching. And what is wisdom? It is the practical application in life of the proper fear of God. Foolishness is living as if there is no God. Wisdom lives life mindful of the Lord. This woman is wise and a reflection of that wisdom is a kind and gracious tongue.

WATCHFUL (Vs 27)

Her wisdom is also expressed in being watchful over he
r family. “She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.” She keeps watch over the activities of the home and directs the work to be done. She is not someone who folds her hands and watches others work. She is involved in what occurs. The household runs well because of her organization and management. Her watchfulness also protects her from idleness which leads to all sorts of evil. Paul warned Timothy not to support idle widows because of this (1 Timothy 5:10-14). Arnot put it this way, “Empty hours, empty hands, empty companions, empty words, empty hearts, draw in evil spirits, as a vacuum draws in air. To be occupied with good is the best defense against the inroads of evil.”

HONORED (Vs 28)

The result of all this that “Her children rise up and bless her . . .” This is the natural reaction of children who are well reared. They have been taught well so they know how to think wisely and properly. They realize how good of a mother they have and so they bless her. The virtuous woman receives the honor of her children’s praise.

RESPECTED (Vs 28-29)

She also receives her husband’s respect. Her husband also, and he praises her, saying . . . “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all. What wonderful praise to be given to a wife. Her husband recognizes and tells her that she is more than just noble, she is excellent, virtuous. Men, do not make the mistake of taking your wife for granted. Encourage her by letting her know how God is using her to bless your life and the good qualities you see in her.

GODLY (Vs 30)

Her excellence of character is not a fleeting thing, for it is based in the inward quality of godliness that dominates her life. That is the basis of the praise she receives. “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Charm is deceitful because flattery is used to manipulate people. Beauty is vain because it is always fleeting. At best is only lasts the few years of your short life. The characteristics that mark this excellent woman rise from within because she has the proper fear of the Lord and seeks Him with all her heart.

ACCLAIMED (Vs 31)

The rest of society also gives her acclaim because of what she produces. “Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” She has brought much blessing to others by what she has done for them and they in turn give praise for it. Her godly character shines in all that she does including the products of her hands for they cannot be hid. Thus, she is acclaimed.

CONCLUSION

These various characteristics presented in this poem describe the virtuous / excellent woman. It is an impressive list. Perhaps it may seem impossible to attain, and in fact it is impossible to attain if you strive to do it in your own power. The only way these things can become true of your life is if you lay the same foundation of godliness this woman did for all her other attributes were built upon that. This woman was not born with these qualities and they did not appear by magic. If you want to be a virtuous woman, then start with the proper fear of the Lord for that is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). On this you will develop the other characteristics as you strive for excellence and refuse to settle for mediocrity. Do not give up if you stumble and fall, but get back up and renew the effort for that is the character of the righteous (Proverbs 24:16).

And a final reminder to you men. If your wife, daughter, sister, girlfriend falls short, then don’t point out her faults and berate her. That does not help and only shows your lack of leadership ability. Give her praise in all the areas where she is doing well and then encourage and support her in the areas she still needs to improve. It is wise to treat her the way you would want to be treated for not only does our Lord command it (Matthew 7:12), but there are several more messages on the family, and some of them will detail the qualities that a man should have. I am sure she can probably find a lot more things wrong about you than you can find about her, so treat her the way you would like be treated. Give her praise and bless her for the areas in which she is doing well even while encouraging her in the areas in which she is weak.

KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “woman” is mentioned 2) Talk with your parents about the qualities that characterize a godly woman.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How did God use your mother in your life? What is the origin of Proverbs 31:10-31? Women: examine your own life in relationship to the various characteristics described in this passage (and listed above) and then develop a plan of action for growing in those areas that need improvement. Share your plan with your husband or a friend for accountability and encouragement. (Remember that you do not have to be perfect to be loved and used by the Lord, but He does desire for you to reach your full potential). Men: If you are married, be sure to praise your wife for the areas in which she is doing well, and then develop a plan of action in how you will encourage your wife to grow in the Lord in those areas she is not doing so well without becoming critical of her (treat her the way you would want to be treated). If you are not married, describe the characteristics you would desire in a wife and then compare them to this passage. Develop a plan of action to encourage your sisters / sisters-in-Christ to help them develop these characteristics.

 

Sermon Notes – 5/13/2012

Proverbs on Family, Part 2: The Excellent Wife – Proverbs 31:10-31

Introduction

These are qualities to develop in your life and to encourage in the lives of others

Scriptures: __________________________________________________________________________

Examples: __________________________________________________________________________

Origin is the mother of King Lemuel. Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic Hebrew __________

Valuable (verse 10)

Virtuous – ___________________ of character and ability. Moral goodness

Value above jewels due to quality and ______________

Trustworthy (verse 11)

Seeking what is ____________ for the family, she brings gain, not debt

Continually good (verse 12)

Arises from a deeply committed moral character in which true _____________ reigns

Industrious (verse 13)

She goes out to find and carefully ________________ what she will need

She takes _______________ in the work she is doing with her hands

Prudent (verse 14)

< p>    She sacrifices her convenience and comfort to search out value and ______in good things for her family

Diligent (verse 15)

The care of her family is _______________ important to her than her own comfort

Entrepreneurial (verse 16)

She understands business and knows how to increase her _____________ through diversification

She controls her spending so she can save and _____________

Titus 2:5 sets the _________________ , but it does not give a prohibition

Strong (verse 17)

She is not afraid of _____________ labor because she keeps herself physically fit

Attentive (verse 18)

She is ______________ to the outcome of her labor and investments

She is attentive to the needs of her home and ____________ accordingly

Hard worker (verse 19)

She will work with her ____________ to provide / make good things for her family / business

Compassionate (verse 20)

She provides both material needs to the poor, but also _____________, counsel and encouragement

Confident (verse 21)

She has anticipated the _____________ and worked hard to be ready for it

Elegant (verse 22)

She wears fine clothing as a result of her _______________________

Admirable (verse 23)

Her excellence at home enables her ______________ to be a civic leader

Capitalist (verse 24)

She operate a manufacturing __________________ and trades

Dignified (verse 25)

She wears elegant clothes, but her real _____________ is her personal dignity

Wise (verse 26)

Her wisdom is expressed in how she speaks and ______________ she says

Watchful (verse 27)

She is involved and _______________ and this protects her from idleness

Honored (verse 28)

Children reared well will naturally give ______________ to their parents

Respected (verse 29)

Her _________________recognizes her many virtues and praises her

Godly (verse 30)

Charm is deceitful because it manipulates others. Beauty is vain because it is _______________

The proper ___________of the Lord results in godliness and virtue

Acclaimed (verse 31)

Her ________character shines in all she does so that even the products of her hands result in her acclaim

Conclusions

Virtue starts with the proper fear of the __________- strive for that and encourage others to do the same


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